Western mercenaries linked with two Dubai-based companies arrived in Libya with plans to assist forces loyal to eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar in their year-long offensive to capture the capital, Tripoli, a news report said.
Bloomberg News, citing a confidential UN report, reported the team of 20 soldiers arrived in the North African country in June 2019 before quickly withdrawing to Malta days later, the US publication said.
The military contractors were affiliated with Lancaster 6 DMCC and Opus Capital Asset Limited FZE, both registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Bloomberg quoted two diplomats as saying the companies financed and directed an operation to provide Haftar’s forces with helicopters, drones and cyber capabilities through a complex web of shell companies.
The Western mercenaries named in the UN report promised a sophisticated operation that could interdict arms shipments from Turkey to the government of Tripoli using vessels and helicopters, according to the two diplomats.
The report found that six former military helicopters were acquired and sent to Libya for the project in what it described as non-compliance with a UN resolution for an arms embargo on Libya.
Though uncertain as to the reason behind the team’s prompt withdrawal, UN investigators said they were not convinced by the explanation given by lawyers that it was contracted to provide services relating to oil and gas.
A letter from Vince Gordon, the lawyer representing some reportedly involved, said “allegations about the unlawful activity of Opus and Lancaster 6 in Libya are simply not factual and spread based on a patchwork of half-truths”.
“Our clients intend to vigorously defend themselves and their directors and employees against false and misleading allegations,” said Gordon.
It was not the first time reports of foreign mercenaries partaking in the battle for Tripoli have emerged.
In September, Russian fighters from the private Wagner group – owned by a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin – were said to have joined Haftar’s troops on the front lines.
Thousands more from Sudan were also reported to have assisted the LNA while Syrian mercenaries are present on both sides, including rebels from the opposition Syrian National Army sent by Turkey, the GNA’s sole military benefactor.
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